U.S. News

More weapons charges filed against militia group

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Wednesday brought new charges against members of midwestern militia group accused of plotting to kill police as part of a wider war against the U.S. government.

The new 15-count indictment adds several weapons-related charges not contained in the previous indictment against the militia group.

All nine defendants have pleaded not guilty to the original charges and the judge hearing the case has ordered them freed on bond, saying prosecutors failed to show they posed a real threat.

The indictment originally unsealed in late March accused the nine, members of a midwestern militia group called the Hutaree, of planning to kill a police officer in Michigan and then ambush the funeral procession using explosives.

The new indictment adds 10 weapons charges including possession of machineguns and unregistered rifles and use of firearms during a violent crime.

According to the new indictment federal agents seized from defendants’ homes in March machineguns, unregistered short-barreled rifles and over 148,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as “a variety of explosives and related items capable of being readily assembled to build several types of destructive devices.”

The original federal grand jury indictment charged the defendants with seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.

But in a blistering attack on the prosecutors’ seditious conspiracy case in early May, U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts said prosecutors had failed to persuade her the defendants were a danger to the community.

While they may have engaged in “offensive and hate-filled speech,” it was not at all clear that they had conspired to break any laws, Roberts wrote.

“Discussions about killing local law enforcement officers -- and even discussions about killing members of the Judicial Branch of Government -- do not translate to conspiring to overthrow, or levy war against, the United States Government,” she wrote in a 36-page opinion.

The group’s website says the term Hutaree means “Christian warrior” and says the group was “preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive.” However, prosecutors downplayed the religious elements of the group.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman